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Mark Goulston, M.D. Headshot

Become Calm, Centered and Focused

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When you're upset, it takes most of your strength to keep from reacting and doing something hastily. Follow and then practice these seven steps and you may find it easier to resist reacting and have a better chance of responding in a positive way. Over time these steps will become more natural and you'll be able to do them without a great deal of effort. They are also a great skill to teach to your children.

  1. Physical Awareness. When you're feeling in distress after an upset or before something you think will be upsetting, think to yourself, "I am physically feeling [what] in my [where in your body]." For example, "light-headed and sick to my stomach."
  2. Emotional Awareness. Attach an emotion to that feeling. "And emotionally I feel [mildly, moderately, very] name what you are feeling [angry? frustrated? scared? disappointed? hurt? upset?]." For example, "I feel very upset."
  3. Impulse Awareness. "And feeling [name the physical feeling] and [name the intensity and the emotional feeling] makes me want to [name the impulse]." For example, "And feeling very upset makes me want to go vent to someone."
  4. Consequence Awareness. "If I act on that impulse, the most likely immediate consequence will be ____, and a longer-term consequence will be ____. For example, "I will probably feel immediate relief, but then I will feel embarrassed, probably frustrate the person I am venting to and still not know what to do."
  5. Reality Awareness. "While I am holding off (for now) on acting on that impulse, another possible and more accurate perception of what might really be going on is [seeing the world as it actually is can further help you not react to the way it isn't]. For example, "Feeling upset and not knowing what to do doesn't mean it's the end of my career or there isn't a solution to this."
  6. Solution Awareness. "A better thing for me to do instead would be to [fill in an alternate behavior and what you need to do to achieve those outcomes]." For example, "A better thing to do would be to think of someone I know who has successfully dealt with this situation and reach out to them for suggestions, and when I do, to not complain, whine, blame others or 'yes, but' what they say and to be sure to thank them at the end."
  7. Benefit Awareness. "If I try that solution, the benefit to me immediately will be [fill in the immediate benefit]." For example, "If I reach out to someone for help in a calm and gracious way, they will probably help me, I will get a solution about how to deal with this... and rather than thinking less of me, that other person is more likely going to think more of me."

If the above is too "esoteric" when you're upset, another way to manage upset is to go from: "Oh crap!" to "Okay."

Adapted from Get Out of Your Own Way and Get Out of Your Own Way at Work

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